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Photo Tips > Night Photography



If you've never done night photography, go to Easy Way.

If your more advanced, read on.

Easy Way

• Set the ISO to 1600.

• Set the exposure mode to Program (P).

Don't use the Auto exposure mode (often green colored)

The flash may go off.

If you have a point-and-shoot camera, look for, and try, the night photography scene mode.

• Photograph at twilight, and later.

• Set your camera on something to avoid camera shake.

Your camera may select a slow shutter speed.

You can also use the self-timer to trip the shutter.

• If you know how to use exposure compensation, do so.

Take one picture at 0.0, and take several more at plus and minus settings.

Be safe.

If you don't feel 100% safe, choose a different location.

It's best to bring someone along with you, too.


• Make sure your camera battery is fully charged, and bring spares.

Long exposures consume batteries quickly.

• Tripod?

You may not want to use a tripod, at first.

Tripods can slow down your spontaneity.

Also, when you're looking through the viewfinder of a camera on a tripod, you can become less aware of your surroundings.

You can set your camera on a newspaper box, or brace it against a lamppost.

Having to look for a quasi-tripod can make for a better photograph.

• Bring a small flashlight, or a headband LED light, so you can see your camera settings.

• Bring a timer for long exposures.

• Summer? Bring bug repellent.

• If you'll be near a road, wear a reflective vest.

• Bring another photographer along, or a patient friend.

When photographing, one can become engrossed and less aware of the surroundings.

Bring along a second set of eyes.

"Stop! There's a cliff."

Security Guards & Police

Even if you don't photograph bridges, power plants, and the like, you may be confronted by security guards and police.

If you're a student, bring along your identification card.

"I'm doing a photography assignment."

Bring along a portfolio of 4x6 inch prints of your work, to show that what you're doing is harmless.

"Here's what I do."

While you have the right to photograph in public places, you may want to leave if you're confronted.

Download lawyer Bert Krages' The Photographer's Right - A Downloadable Flyer.

Best Time

You can photograph at any time of night.

If there's a best time, twilight is it.

Remember, the contrast of a scene will increase when photographed.

The bright blue sky at twilight may become a dark blue as a photograph.

Go to WYSINWYG (What You See Is NOT What You Get).


Flare is a whitish haze along with, often, but not always, geometric shapes.

Flare is created when you aim your camera toward a bright light source, such as a street light.

You can reduce flare by using a lens hood, or by shading the lens with your hand or a piece of black cardboard.

Go to Flare.

White Balance

At first, you may want to use automatic white balance (AWB).

You can set the white balance to match the color of the predominate light source.

If you're saving raw files instead of JPEGs, you can set the white balance when editing.

LED Lights

LED lights may be bluish or more like daylight.

If they're bluish, try the flash or cloud white balance settings.

If they're more like daylight, use the sun or daylight white balance settings.

Sodium Vapor Lights

Sodium vapor lights, the most common street lights, are yellow to our eyes, and orange on photographs.

Use the incandescent, tungsten, or light bulb white balance setting, or a custom setting.

Mercury Vapor Lights

Mercury vapor lights appear blue to our eyes, and green on photographs.

There's no appropriate white balance setting for mercury vapor lights.

You can use a custom setting.

Mixed Light Sources

If the scene has different colored light sources, set the white balance to match the color of the predominate light source.

If the light sources are contributing equally, use a custom setting.


Contrary to what you see in films, moonlight isn't blue.

It's sunlight reflected off of the moon.

So, use the sun or daylight white balance setting.

Go to White Balance.


Exposure Mode

Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Use the Program (P) or Night Landscape exposure modes, or a night photography scene mode.

Your flash may pop up if you use:

• The Auto exposure mode.

The Auto exposure mode may be designated by a green rectangle icon or a green camera icon.

• Exposure modes which are denoted by icons, such as the mountain icon.

• Other scene modes.

DSLR Cameras

Use the Program (P) or Night Landscape exposure modes, at first.

Your flash may pop up if you use:

• The Auto exposure mode.

The Auto exposure mode may be designated by a green rectangle icon or a green camera icon.

• Exposure modes which are denoted by icons, such as the mountain icon.


Use a high ISO setting, such as ISO 1600, at first.

Later, when using a tripod, use lower ISO settings.

Noise Reduction

When you use high ISO settings, and long exposures, noise may result.

Noise is specs of the wrong brightness and the wrong color.

Go to Noise Reduction.

Exposure Compensation

Use the exposure compensation feature to bracket your exposures widely.

Bracketing is when you take several photographs at different settings.

You'll have a series of photographs with different "shades."

Go to Bracketing.

Typically, there's a button on your camera with a +/- icon.

Press and hold the button, and move a knob to shift the exposure up and down.

-2 -1 0 +1 +2

A +/- icon will appear on the LCD screen when you change the exposure setting from 0 (zero).

Take a series of photographs at 0, -1, -2, +1, and +2.

Go to Exposure Compensation.

Auto Bracketing

Your camera may have auto bracketing.

You set the range of exposures.

Then, you either press the shutter release once, and the camera takes several photographs by itself.

Or, you click several times, to do all of the bracketed exposures, yourself.

Raw Files

If you can save your photographs using a raw file format, do so.

Raw files are the unprocessed output of the sensor.

You can process the raw files for optimum exposure, contrast, and white balance.

Your camera may be able to save your photographs as both raw and JPEG files.

Manual Exposure

You can set your exposure manually.

Go to Manual Exposure.

Use the Light Values Chart for settings.

Long Exposure Noise Reduction

If your camera has a noise reduction feature, select the feature.

For example, with a Nikon, the Long Exposure setting will automatically take a second exposure without opening the shutter.

This second exposure, called a dark exposure, "photographs" the noise created by the sensor.

The noise is created by the heat of the sensor.

This heat noise is then subtracted from the initial exposure.

Tripping the Shutter

You'll want to get, eventually, a remote shutter release.

By tripping the shutter remotely, you won't create any camera shake.

If the moment of exposure isn't important, you can use the self-timer of your camera to trip the shutter.


Experiment with:

• Camera movement.

• Zooming during long exposures.

• Using the Night Portrait exposure mode.

The flash will illuminate the foreground, and the shutter will remain open long enough to properly expose the background.

Painting with light.

When You're Done

When you're done for the evening, change the camera settings back to the ones you use most often.

For example, check the LCD screen of your camera for the absence of the +/- icon.

If you see the icon, change the exposure compensation back to 0.0.


Christmas Lights


Moon Photography



Kodak Technical Data: Pictures by Existing Light

Scroll down to the exposure settings chart


Night Photographer Websites

Robert Adams

David Allee

Frank Dituri

Marianne Engel Flowers at night

Andy Frazier

Susanne Friedrich Uses a Holga camera

Michael Frye National parks and petroglyphs with artificial light at dusk

Night Vision: Photographs of William Gedney and Lynn Saville

Dan Heller:


Star Trails

Todd Hido

Franz Jantzen

Lance Keimig - Night Skye

Michael Kenna

William Lesch Pioneer

Lost America

Larrie Thomson

Painting with Light


Chris Becker

Dave Black

Toby Keller

Lightmark Cenci Goepel & Jens Warnecke

O. Winston Link

Tom Paiva Industrial sites

Thomas Pflaum Industrial sites

Matthew Pillsbury

Tokihiro Sato

Lynne Saville

Christina Seely

Chip Simons

Eric Staller

Jan Staller

Berthold Steinhilber See Lightwork

Martin Wolf Wagner